President Donald Trump has spent the past couple of days unleashing racist attack after racist attack on four progressive freshman congresswomen of color, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Ilhan Omar. And while the attention has been on his xenophobic remarks — which are nothing new — his administration has advanced several anti-immigrant policies and narratives over the same period of time.
Without mentioning them by name, Trump said on Sunday that the "'Progressive' Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe" should "go back" to where they came from.
Omar is the only congresswoman in the group who was not born in the United States — she is a Somalian refugee who has lived in the U.S. for 25 years and became an American citizen in 2000. Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx, NY; Tlaib is from Detroit, MI; and Pressley was born in Cincinnati, OH.
The four congresswomen addressed Trump's comments in a press conference on Monday afternoon. "This is a disruptive distraction," said Rep. Pressley. "Don't take the bait." They stressed that instead of sparring with Trump over tweets, they are committed to working on issues such as healthcare and again decried the conditions in migrant detention centers.
"Weak minds and leaders challenge loyalty to our country in order to avoid challenging and debating the policy," said Ocasio-Cortez. "He doesn't know how to defend his policy, so what he does is attack us personally."
Trump continued his tirade on Monday morning, tweeting: "When will the Radical Left Congresswomen apologize to our Country, the people of Israel and even to the Office of the President, for the foul language they have used, and the terrible things they have said. So many people are angry at them & their horrible & disgusting actions!"
Trump claims he is "the least racist person that you’ve ever encountered," but his statements and administration's policies suggest otherwise. The policies are what matters at the end of the day — we're seeing how they affect people living in migrant detention centers every day — but, unfortunately, the back-and-forth on Twitter is doing a pretty good job distracting the public.
Ahead, three major immigration stories you might have missed while everyone was talking about Trump's tweets.
The Trump administration moved to ban most refugees from seeking asylum.
A new interim final rule by the Trump administration says migrants cannot claim asylum if they didn't seek refugee status "while in a third country through which they transited en route to the United States." Advocates say the new rule, which also applies to unaccompanied migrant children, will largely impact Central American immigrants traveling through Mexico, although it will also affect any other migrant who does not seek asylum in another country before reaching the U.S. The rule is set to take effect on Tuesday.
Both U.S. and international law establish that people can seek asylum out of fear of being persecuted in their home countries based on their race, political opinion, nationality, religion, or belonging to a particular social group. Per U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, it is legal to seek asylum regardless of whether a refugee arrives in the country with or without authorization. The policy, which the U.S. is establishing unilaterally, allows for exceptions in three limited cases: migrants who applied for protection in at least one country they traveled through and were denied refugee status, migrants who prove they have been a "victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons," and migrants who arrived in the U.S. through countries that don't offer asylum protections.
"This rule reaches a shameful new low," Archi Pyati, chief of policy at Tahirih Justice Center, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "Children fleeing life-threatening circumstances, women fleeing rape and severe domestic violence, families trying to avoid persecution — none will be allowed to seek asylum. This blanket rejection of asylum claims simply because someone approaches the Southern border is inhuman and unfair. It also flies in the face of our obligations under international law to uphold the Refugee Convention. Every individual deserves a chance to demonstrate her eligibility for asylum and her need for protection."
Small-scale ICE raids began, leading to fear in immigrant communities.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency began raids this past weekend expected to target around 2,000 unauthorized immigrants and their families with court-ordered removals. Although advocates say the raids were not as widespread as they had expected, the news left many immigrant communities frightened. Several media outlets reported that in majority-immigrant neighborhoods across the country, families were in hiding out of fear of being swept up in the raids even if they were not the target.
"It’s going to carry over into the week, with children scared their parents won’t come home [from work]," Jojo Annobil, executive director of Immigrant Justice Corps in New York, told the Los Angeles Times. "It scares neighborhoods. People are on edge."
Trump officials downplayed the horrific conditions at immigration detention centers on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Following Vice President Mike Pence's visit to two migrant detention centers in Texas, top Trump administration officials downplayed the conditions in these centers, which advocates, historians, and lawmakers have called "concentration camps."
Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office, laughed when asked by ABC News whether the overcrowding at the centers was a human rights violation. "How can you allow this to happen? If you don't have the resources, you can’t detain these people, can you?" Jonathan Karl asked Cuccinelli. "Isn't that a basic human rights violation?"
Cuccinelli replied: "No, I mean, they're being fed." When told that migrants don't even have enough space to lie down and sleep, he said: "That's a reality of facilities not designed to handle the swamping at the border."
.@jonkarl on conditions at migrant facilities: "How can you allow this to happen?…Isn't that a basic human rights violation?"— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) July 14, 2019
Ken Cuccinelli: "No, I mean they're being fed…that's a reality of facilities not designed to handle the swamping at the border" https://t.co/Z8xMQ0b3Bb pic.twitter.com/vvptjw2BEO
Senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway sang a similar song, saying conditions were just fine at the centers she visited in Texas. "I witnessed no overcrowding," Conway told Fox News Sunday. "I saw lots of supplies. I saw diapers. I saw food. I saw endless supplies of water."
In the past few weeks, it's been widely reported that migrant children have often been held in Border Patrol custody without access to adequate food, space to sleep, or even basic sanitary necessities such as soap or toothpaste. Ocasio-Cortez and several other members of Congress strongly condemned conditions in the detention centers during a recent visit, citing overcrowding and the fact that the women were forced to drink out of a toilet because there was no running water.